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Will assembly election in Manipur be CM Okram Ibobi’s toughest challenge till date?

Political analysts say that the anti-incumbency is high this time as well, probably higher than 2012, but that the entry of BJP in to Manipuri politics that has the Chief Minister worried.

Written by Esha Roy | Imphal |
Updated: March 11, 2017 11:38:14 am
manipur elections, manipur polls, UNC, united naga council, manipur highway blaockade, indian express news, india news, manipur elections updates Manipur CM Ibobi Singh (Source: File/PTI)

This isn’t the first time that the three-time Chief Minister of Manipur Okram Ibobi Singh has been challenged, but the 11th assembly election in Manipur is definitely Ibobi Singh’s toughest challenge till date. Despite the prevalence of anti-incumbency in the 2012 elections, the Congress party under Ibobi Singh swept the Manipur polls with 42 out of 60 assembly seats – the first landslide victory to be registered by the Congress in the state. Political analysts say that the anti-incumbency is high this time as well, probably higher than 2012, but that the entry of BJP in to Manipuri politics that has the Chief Minister worried. “Last time when there was anti-incumbency, there was no alternative. Now BJP, with its government at the Centre, provides that alternative. Predictably, the BJP has therefore been making use of this to its advantage,’’ says a close aide.

Rumblings within his own party and party workers in Thoubal assembly constituency, where Ibobi has not only remained undefeated but, where voters say, forays by other non-congress parties is impossible, has made Ibobi Singh rush to his constituency to remedy the dissent. “This is his undisputed stronghold. He never has to worry about Thoubal. In the past, the rallies and campaigns he has conducted here has been for other Congress candidates. This time is the first time he has had to visit Thoubal over and over to ensure that he is not losing ground,” says a close aide.

Ibobi Singh is an experienced hand at warding off dissidence within his party as well as competition outside of it. Close aides say his entire first term, the newly-elected Chief Minister spent fighting off rivals within the Congress party, and sometimes within his own cabinet, who were aspiring to the Chief Minister’s chair.

Last year, N. Biren, a stalwart Congress leader and a minister in a former Ibobi-cabinet, rebelled and threatened to leave the party along with 20 other MLAs if the Chief Minister did not fulfill an earlier promise of reshuffling the cabinet. Ibobi Singh, in the face of the BJP onslaught, continues to be optimistic. He is believed to be expecting at least 36 seats, a simple majority that will ensure that he becomes the four time Chief Minister of the state. He has been so confident, as a matter of fact, that the state Congress only held one Rahul Gandhi rally to mark central leadership. “Ibobi Singh feels that he does not need the central leadership. That he can pull off the elections by himself,’’ says a Congress worker.

But the aggressive BJP campaign, the presence of the central BJP leadership and with preliminary reports seeming to be favourable to the BJP, the BJP camp is upbeat. Earlier this month, just before the first phase, BJP leaders said that they were expecting between 16-20 seats. After a successful second phase, where the BJP seems to have done relatively well in the Christianity dominated hill district, BJP leaders now say that the party may just be able to get enough seats to form the government.

“We now expect at least 25-28 seats. This is apart from the seats that we believe that our allies like the NPP or LJP and several independent candidates will get. In the hills, out of 20 we are likely to get 6-7 seats – and these are seats that the Congress or the Naga People’s Front has dominated so far,’’says a senior BJP leader and candidate.

Neither party is looking at a hung assembly. The Congress will hope for a simple majority, because a hung assembly is likely to be at the BJP’s advantage.

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